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Mainstream companies lure you in with high SPF levels, but what if those promises are full of toxins and lies? 

When In Doubt, Opt For Natural Sunscreen

I’m a lover of sun and sand. So much so, that I often dream of pitching a tent on Montauk’s Ditch Plains beach all summer long. But all that sun comes at a price.

Dermatologists recommend never leaving home without sunscreen, even on a cloudy day. Yet most products on the market contain harsh ingredients and make questionable claims.

For the past nine years, the Environmental Working Group has published an annual report on sunscreen focusing on ingredients, false claims, how to prevent skin cancer, etc.

With a lot of technical jargon and conflicting reports on the web, it’s hard to make sense of how to protect yourself from the sun. So here are the guidelines, plain and simple.

In my teenage years, I never hid from sunshine, walking around crisp and browned. The thought of staying in on a summer day was preposterous, but with age comes wisdom. It’s important and recommended to stay out of the sun when possible, as this is the most basic way to prevent skin cancer.

Before embarking on a day outside, check the UV Index and read the Environmental Protection Agency’s guide to understand the numbers. It’s fortunately color coded from green, the lowest risk, to red, the most dangerous, to quickly identify how to prepare for the day’s sun.

Similarly, while celebrities don’t often endorse the most realistic or best habits, their penchant for disguising themselves with a hat and sunglasses is excellent advice. The skin cells on our faces are smaller and present less of a barrier, making them more sensitive to external factors, so covering up your face is not just a way to avoid unwanted glances but also the sun’s harsh rays.

SPF Cover Up Exposed

As a vitamin D-hungry human being, you cannot avoid the sun forever. In fact, 25 percent of Americans have a borderline vitamin D deficiency, while 8 percent have a more serious deficiency. The downsides of vitamin D deficiency are bone loss, kidney disease, lung disorders, diabetes, stomach and intestinal issues, cancer, and heart disease.

All of these are reason enough to spend a day outdoors–but not without  sunscreen. Studies and surveys are published annually from places like the Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Both of these reports take into account different factors—with the EWG leaning more toward type of ingredients, while Consumer Reports considers efficacy and price to be paramount.

What holds true across the board is understanding SPF and the misleading labeling behind it. In May of this year, Greatist reported 12 sunscreens that were using incorrect SPF labeling. Similarly, ingredient-conscious parents were outraged when favorite company Honest Co. let an SPF 30 sunscreen go to market that left their babies burnt.

As the confusion and worry around how to choose the right sunscreen went on, EWG stated in their most recent report, “[H]igher SPF ratings don’t necessarily offer greater protection from other UV-related skin damage and may lead users to spend too much time in the sun.”

Statements like this one haven’t changed the minds of marketing departments who, over the past nine years, have increased use of labeling sunscreens higher than SPF 50. The FDA agrees that sky-high SPFs are “inherently misleading” and the hope is to make anything higher than SPF 50 use the labeling “SPF 50+” as strength above this number may vary.

And if we need more reasons this labeling should be changed, consumers tend to misuse high SPFs by staying in the sun longer. High SPF does not mean the length of time it remains effective, but rather the level of protection for a particular time. They’re also not as well formulated. The ingredients used to increase a sunscreen’s SPF fight UVB rays, yet UVA rays are the ones that will cause the most harm to your skin.

Sunscreen Ingredients Matter

Certain sunscreens may also contain a higher degree of UV fighting chemicals that can adversely affect your health. Given its need to protect and shield your skin from harmful rays, sunscreen filters often have ingredients to help penetrate the surface area and absorb better. The downside of this, when it comes to chemical-based sunscreen, is that the active ingredients may interact negatively with hormones and will be detectable in your blood stream, urine, and, even breast milk. Thankfully, there are some  companies developing sunscreens that opt for natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide rather than chemical filters..

Check out world’s Safest Sunscreen – 3rd Rock

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It’s clear there’s more to protecting our skin than simply slathering on Coppertone like the 1944 ads suggested. (Editor’s Note: Bayer—makers of systemic pesticides that kill bees—now owns Coppertone.) More important than sky-high SPF claims and easy to apply sprays, UV-fighting ingredients and FDA and EWG standards on worthy-sunscreens are required reading before stepping into the sun. Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Through it, you absorb pollutants and vitamins alike, so some TLC is a must before stepping into the sun.

Suzanne ZuppelloSuzanne Zuppello Suzanne is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. Her writing weaves health, wellness, and politics with pop culture and personal experience. Suzanne’s work lives on her website, partlyprivate.life.

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